The Tecce Tract's owner's development plans call for an assisted living facility along Ridge Pike (left) and 35 age-restricted homes running north from Whitemarsh Township to the southern edge of the property at Northwestern Avenue.

The Tecce Tract’s owner’s development plans call for an assisted living facility along Ridge Pike (left) and 35 age-restricted homes running north from Whitemarsh Township to the southern edge of the property at Northwestern Avenue.

by Pete Mazzaccaro

The Springfield Township “panhandle” is an odd bit of municipal gerrymandering. It’s a roughly quarter-mile wide strip that extends west from the township’s corner at Northwestern and Germantown avenues, crosses Ridge Pike and stops a little more than half a mile from the Schuylkill River.

The panhandle’s original purpose was to allow William Penn’s wife to ride her horse to the Schuylkill on family land (Springfield Township was entirely the land of Penn’s estate of the same name).

Much of that panhandle is still open space. From the Andorra Natural area, it rolls over open farm land, golf course greens and nature preserves. In some parts, one could be placed in the middle of the panhandle and swear they’ve been transported back in time.

A group of Springfield Township residents who want to keep the land this way are hoping they can influence the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners to accept their proposal to keep a 42-acre parcel of land known as the Tecce Tract at 9303 Ridge Pike, as open as possible.

The parcel’s owner, Fred Tecce Jr, recently filed for a change in zoning for a 7.1 acre parcel in order to build an Atria assisted-living facility right off of Ridge Pike and to build 35 age-restricted homes on the land east of that.

Township resident Brennan Preine and a group called Friends of the Springfield Panhandle, would like to allow the Atria use but want three years time to raise the money to buy the rest of the land and turn it over to a nonprofit trust to be sure it remains open space.

In a video on the Friends’ site – http://bpreine.wix.com/panhandle – Preine argues that the intensity of the Atria development should earn the township leverage in asking that owners of the property refrain from extending that intensity further into what is now open space.

“The Tecce Tract is one of our last, large open spaces,” Preine said. “If this intense developer proposal is permitted, it can have ramifications in the future for other large properties.”

Ross Weiss, Tecce’s attorney confirmed his client’s requests for rezoning and added that the historic 1928 home on the property would be preserved. That home was purchased by Tecce’s father, Frank Sr, in 1928. The property was left to Tecce in 1999.

A hearing on the property is scheduled on Wednesday, June 11 at 8 p.m. at the Springfield Township Municipal Services Building, 1510 Paper Mill Road.